5 minutes with Shannon McCurley – Irelands top female sprinter reflects on Rio and plans for beyond

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Ireland’s Shannon McCurley made history this August by being the first female athlete ever to represent Ireland in track cycling at the Olympics. She competed in the Keirin, a fast and tactical motor-paced sprint event. Now that the dust has settled we catch up with her to ask her about her experience, her training and plans for the future..

Describe your experience in Rio in a few sentences
The experience was like no other, it was a different world. I couldn’t believe there’s more sports out there than just cycling…! When I first arrived at the village I was completely speechless of the size of the place. It was really a Village! It’s something that will stay with me for a lifetime. The atmosphere, the sounds the culture everything was just amazing.

How did competing in the Olympic Keirin feel compared to a World Cup say?
Were there more nerves? Was the sense of occasion bigger?
At first I told myself no it’s just another race you do these all the time. I warmed up normally then as I went onto the track and the crowd lit up so did the nerves.  This wasn’t just another race, it was the biggest race of my life.  And even though I wasn’t putting huge amounts of pressure on myself the event alone did that automatically. Plus the field was bigger than World Cups with country’s allowed two per nation so that did make it more difficult, and everyone was in the form of their lives.

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Who was the most impressive person you met in Rio (doesn’t have to be a cyclist)?
I still love Cav (Mark Cavendish) so I did manage a selfie with him. I didn’t really approach guys in the village like everyone else was. Although Stacey Kelly and I got a selfie with Usain Bolt, he may have been about 60m away from us and on the start line but we did it. Haha!

You rode pretty well and you seem to be continually improving the more you compete over time.   Were you pleased with your performance yourself?
Umm I wasn’t disappointed but I wasn’t super happy either. My form leading into the Olympics was building day by day in Portugal at our training camp.  Even my coach said I raced well but I didn’t race to what I had leading into the event.  And I completely understand that.  I know what I did wrong and where I’ll back myself from now on.  I know I’m capable of more.  It just comes with experience and confidence and those girls have experience over me, but I’m almost there.

Martin Irvine was doing the commentary on your race. He said you have to be a bit crazy to be good at the Keirin and not be afraid to go into gaps that don’t exist. He reckoned you were well suited to it! Any comments?
 Haha! I think my family and friends would back him up on “crazy” comment.  I’m defiantly not one to back out that’s for sure. I’ve always been told I’m a good “racer” because you can’t think you just need to react and I’m not much a thinker!

I heard that the UCI are making the Keirin a bit longer to make it more tactical – how do you feel about that?
I haven’t actually heard this. But being a strong scratch race rider in the past this would suit me so much better than the shorter sprint.

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Did you take a break after the Olympics and was it hard to motivate yourself to start training again?
I only got a small break unfortunately with racing so soon after Rio I had to make sure I held onto my form and strength. I’m allowed a longer one after this season. So that’s something to look forward too.

How important was it to get the experience of riding an Olympics in terms of you targeting Tokyo 2020?
Ohh I never expected to qualify for Rio. So it’s great to get that initial Olympic experience out of the way. Now  I want now to go on to reach my peak and target a real result in Tokyo!

Who’s your coach, what are his strengths and how does he get the best out of you?
My coach is John Beasley.  He knows me inside out now.  We have really tried working on my weakness in both the gym and on the track and the improvements are getting there slowly..  Everything takes time but it’s great for myself to see these.

You train with the Malaysian sprint team. Is it important is it to train with a group of elite sprinters?
Yeah definitely. I idolise Azizul (Azizulhasni Awang). He won bronze in the men’s Keirin in Rio and he’s only little like me so what better way to learn than from the best.

Can you give us a brief typical training week for you as a track sprinter?
I have 3-4 gym sessions a week.  2 being heavy leg days and 2 crossfit sessions.  I’ve fallen in love with crossfit in the last year so it’s more of a fun session I get to enjoy. Then I have a 5 hour round trip to Melbourne three times a week to train on the track with my Malaysian training partners and there’s 1-2 recovery rides along with an ergo session in there too.  It’s definitely a long tiring week but it keeps me focused and happy!

Finally you are still very young, so potentially have a long career ahead of you – what are you short term and long term plans?
Short term goals for me are firstly to qualify for the world champs this year. The next two years I definitely want to push to the next level heading into the final two qualifying years for Tokyo, which is of course my long term goal.

Shannon will be representing Ireland in the Keirin at the European Track Champs this week so dont forget to tune in – there will be coverage on Eurosport and the YouTube UCI Channel and live results will be available on Tissot timing. From Wednesday the 19th October.

Wedneday 19th October to Sunday 23rd October
<Link to European Track Championships Website>

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